01/07/2014 09:45 am ET Updated Mar 04, 2014

CBS vs. Cote de Pablo, the Cost of Doing Business: 'What You Lose When You Choose' (Part One)

Despite nearly six months passing since Cote de Pablo's departure from NCIS was announced, there continues to be a significant outcry for her return. The general consensus amongst those that don't believe that Cote left NCIS because she was "ready to move on the other projects" or that it was a "lifestyle choice," is that Cote and CBS reached an impasse in negotiations regarding either one or both of the issues of salary and contract terms. An article by Bruce Fretts in the July 29 issue of TV Guide Magazine stated that, "Contract negotiations came down to the wire...with de Pablo asking for a one-year deal at an increased salary and the network pushing for a multiyear renewal at a lesser rate." So there are really two issues here: was Cote being financially undervalued by CBS and should she have been granted a one-year contract versus a multi-year deal? And finally, was it a good business decision to not agree to these items and let Cote walk from TV's number one show?

The Equal Pay Issue

As the saying goes, we've come a long way baby. Or have we?

A Wall Street Journal article from September 17, 2013 found that women earned 76.5 cents for every dollar that men did last year, moving no closer to narrowing a gender pay gap that has barely budged in almost a decade. Throughout the 80s and 90s the wage gap narrowed at an even clip but the convergence slowed in the early 2000s. The raw wage-gap figure doesn't reflect meaningful nuances such as whether women negotiate their pay as much as men do, which can influence earnings over an entire career. Another influencing factor in the wage gap -- albeit more difficult to document and measure -- is discrimination.

So the question becomes do real life patterns affect the glittery and seemingly perfect world of Hollywood? Surprisingly enough, the answer is yes for both movies and television. Why is this surprising? Because one might think talent levels playing field for both men & women, but a glance over the Forbes 2013 Hollywood's Highest Paid Actors Lists shows the group pocketed a cool $465 million, almost two and a half times more than what the top-paid actresses brought in. Robert Downey Jr. sailed into the top spot with an estimated $75 million in earnings. His paycheck was $10 million more than the combined earnings of the five females who rounded out the top Actress' list. By comparison, the two actors who completed the Actors list, Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson, each pocketed $33 million -- the same figure that landed Angelina Jolie in the #1 spot for actresses.

While we've established that the gender pay gap is not unique to Hollywood, a comparison of Tinseltown's top earners illustrates just how acute and pervasive gender inequities are in show business. What are the driving forces behind this pay gap? First and foremost, roles for women continue to remain scare, particularly in an industry where far too often talent remains defined by youthful good looks rather than acting ability.

One of the most egregious and well-documented examples of the Hollywood gender pay gap can be seen in the CBS show Criminal Minds. In 2010, CBS reduced the role of their leading ladies by cutting back Paget Brewster's (Emily Prentiss) hours and eliminating AJ Cook's (JJ) role entirely. Only Kristen Vangsness (Penelope Garcia) was spared. Initial reports from CBS and the Criminal Minds show runner Edward Bernero indicated the changes were made for financial reasons, subsequent reports cited creative changes. But the show and network soon came under fire for sexist employment practices. Agent Ashley Seaver played by actress Rachel Nichols replaced fan favorites, Cook and Brewster. Ms. Nichols was initially hired for a three episode arc and then was promoted to a series regular prior to her episodes even airing. A fan protest was instrumental in returning the fan favorites to the show the following season.

According to reports from multiple sources including Deadline from May 2013, Vangsness and Cook are negotiated together, seeking pay parity after too many years of making less than half what any of the male series regulars do. Although the actresses did ultimately get significant raises, the network did not concede to paying them what they pay the male cast members. .

The irony in the pay for seniority argument becomes quite apparent when examining the case of Ms. Vangsness specifically since she is an original Criminal Minds cast member, having been with the show since it first aired in 2005. Vangsness' Garcia is arguably as important a character to the Criminal Minds cast as that of Shemar Moore's Derek Morgan and Matthew Gray Gubler's Dr. Spencer Reid. So why shouldn't she be paid as much?

Seniority and Pay Parity

It's also important to look at the seniority argument from a real-world perspective. Seniority is rarely, if ever, the determining factor in deciding how much to pay an employee. There are many other things that factor into the equation. What qualifications did the employee bring with them to the company? How much does the employee bring to the company monetarily? Is the employee well liked by their colleagues and customers? These are just a few other contributing factors in salary determination.

There's also the question of paying your "dues" -- Cote had been on the show for 8 years and had helped pull in ever increasing ratings. Her screen time increased over her 8 years on the show, why shouldn't her pay have increased accordingly? Especially when you factor in that her episode Shiva (January 15, 2013) pulled in the most viewers in the show's 10-year history. 25.36 million total viewers in L+3 ratings, based on CBS' own press release. At what point do you become a proven commodity and valuable to your employer or are you always expendable?